Archive for August, 2016

I wanted to share a quick bit of news before getting to my WWW’s: I finally created an archive of my book reviews! It’s organized by author last name. You can find it in my blog tabs above this post, beside the “About Me” and “About This Blog” tabs. Okay, on to the MEME!

WWW Wednesday is a weekly MEME hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I got the idea from Socially Awkward Bookworm. The three W’s are these:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone is the second book in his Craft Sequence. I lovedlovedloved the first book, so I have high expectations. (And they’re being met!)

I’m also reading an eARC of The Continent by Kiera Drake, provided courtesy of HarlequinTeen. I won’t be posting the review until the cover is revealed, but the book is coming out in Jan 2017, so I’m hoping that will be soon! [Review now available!]

Recently Finished

I love a good old mystery for my bedtime reading and I just discovered Elizabeth Peters’ delightful Crocodile on the Sandbank (first published 1975). The narrator is just…perfect. Hilarious. Review coming next week. [Review now available!]

And Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. What can I say? I’ll be fangirling about this one next week, as well. [Review now available!] Spoiler I LOVED IT SO MUCH.

Reading Next

The Fantastic Flying Book Club will be hosting a blog tour in September 2016 for A Mortal Song by Megan Crew, and they kindly gave me a copy to review! Look at that gorgeous cover. I can’t wait to dig in. Tune in for more!

After that, I’m planning to read episode two of Serial Box Publishing’s serial YA Dystopia: “Hungry” by Andrea Phillips. I loved episode one, so I have high hopes for episode two!

What have you been reading? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If you do a WWW post or a Bookshelf Roundup or anything like that, I hope you’ll post it in the comments below so I can read it, too!
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Labyrinth Lost

“I wonder what it’s like in other households during breakfast. Do their condiment shelves share space with jars of consecrated cemetery dirt and blue chicken feet? Do their mothers pray to ancient gods before they leave for work every morning? Do they keep the index finger bones of their ancestors in red velvet pouches to ward off thieves?”

Premise :

Alejandra is a Latin-American witch, also known as a bruja; but she hates and fears her powers. When she determines to reject her powers and heritage, her attempt backfires in a big way, and she must journey to the underworld, Los Lagos, to redeem herself. Will be published Sept. 6th, 2016.

What I Liked :

(1) Labyrinth Lost begins well, setting the scene in a house full of Brooklyn “brujas,” with creepy descriptions of what it means to be a Latin-American witch. The unique, Latin-flavored details are the main reason I wanted to read Labyrinth Lost in the first place. (2) Zoraida Cordova’s lyrical, original prose covers more than just the Latin-American world of the brujas: it also portrays Alex’s personal life, before the plot starts rolling. Alex struggles with a realistically painful and frightening magical “coming of age,” but she also enjoys a fun relationship with her siblings—equal parts love and snark. When they joke about reincarnation:

“What did I do in my last life to deserve you two?” “You were a pirate queen who stole a treasure from Cortes and then ended up deserting your crew to man-hungry sharks.”

So despite a few clunky plot points, early on, and the brat of a narrator (Alex is overly aggressive with everyone except Rishi, her bisexual love interest, with whom she softens almost to the point of sentimental silliness), I flew through the first half and noted, with rising hope, the unique descriptions of the secondary world that Alex enters through a portal.

“It startles me when I look at both ends of the horizon. The moon and the sun are out at the same time. On one end, the sun is a white circle hidden behind the overcast sky. On the other side of the horizon is a sideways, slender crescent moon, the points facing up. Something swells inside of me, a faded memory of bedtime stories about them reaching across the sky to join together—La Mama and El Papa.”

Disappointments :

(1) Unfortunately, it becomes clear around the 50% mark that Rishi was only included in this story for her sexual orientation; she has no plot purpose. [Highlight to view spoiler: She and Alex feel like good friends, but the bisexual relationship feels completely forced, as if the author only included it to make the book sell.] Not only does Rishi have no meaningful character arc, I can’t think of one thing she does to influence the plot. Ultimately, many readers looking for a good LGBT fantasy were disappointed (if Goodreads is any indication).

(2) The worldbuilding does not continue to deepen. Although the book’s Latin-American pantheon is full of uniquely named gods and goddesses, the deities end up blending together without much distinction or mythology. None is particularly fleshed out. Occasionally, a character shares a great story about one of the gods, but only very occasionally.

(3) Alex and Rishi are irritatingly ambivalent about Los Lagos and its gods, throughout most of the story. Rishi, in particular, acts like they’re traveling through Candyland, not Hell. She’s constantly like, “OH SHINY THINGS EVERYWHERE LET ME TOUCH THEM!” And Alex and Nova are like “STOP TOUCHING THAT YOU DARLING STUPID MAGPIE!” Literally, Alex constantly calls Rishi things like “my little magpie.” It makes the book feel more MG than YA. Behavior like this also deescalated the tension, for me, because if they’re not wary, why should I be?

Nova is the only character with any sense or passion about his religion. Here he defends his beliefs to the teen girls:

“Nova sounds frustrated as he says, ‘I can’t explain belief. I just have it. I know the power in me comes from somewhere. I know that the magic in my veins is real. No, I can’t tell you that if I speak to the Deos, they answer back with words, but there are other ways. When was the last time Zeus came down from Olympus and hung out just to prove his existence?”

(4) The magic system retains similar problems to the pantheon. While it is beautifully developed in language and atmosphere, it’s totally underdeveloped as a tool. Alex draws on physical energy to use her magic and no one ever defines her magical boundaries. So basically…Alex can do anything; that knowledge sucks the tension from the action sequences and the climax.

Overall :

Labyrinth Lost is unique among YA Fantasy, although its worldbuilding won’t satisfy longtime readers of Fantasy. It sidesteps some of its own questions (such as, “If at least some of the Latin religious myths are true, what about Rishi’s Guyanese religion?”); the tension is destroyed by a cardboard villain and unlimited deus ex machina magic; and the contrived bisexual relationship seems to have been included only as a selling point.

Still, the merits of the book stand. The unique Latin-American feel of this novel earns it 1.5 stars. I also generally liked the sentence-level craft of the book, which earns it a half star. And the twist at the 80ish% mark gives it another half star.

If the premise gives you a burning desire to read the book, as it did me, you may find something to like, here.

2.5/5 STARS

My thanks to Zoraida Cordova, Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for my review copy of Labyrinth Lost.

Three races fight for dominance in Pliocene Europe.

Premise :

Several million years ago, two factions of a dimorphic alien race took shelter on the most compatible planet: earth.

Fast-forward to the 22nd century, where not all humans are happy with the speed of progress and intergalactic relations with various “exotic” races. Several “misfit” humans portal back to Pliocene Europe to escape their own time. Ironically, these time-traveling refugees of the future must now battle aliens for their very lives in the past, instead of living in peace and harmony with them in their own time.

The saga of the human and alien refugees continues in this second book of the Pliocene Exile.

Adult science fiction, Published 1982. Book I was nominated for the Nebula award in 1981 and a Hugo Award in 1982. It won the 1982 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

What I Liked :

The plot. The plot of book I, The Many Colored Land, is split between setup for the time warp (from “intergalactic age earth” to “Pliocene earth”) and the events following the warp—a short plot of political rebellion that takes place in the world of the Pliocene itself.

But book II is all Pliocene politics, baby, and the power struggles center on racial survival.

The Tanu, the dominant exotic race due to their strong mental powers, continually battle their rivals and sister-race, the Firvulag, who lack the technology and mental powers of the Tanu.

And humans are the slaves.

Because the Tanu struggle to procreate due to earth’s radiation levels (unlike the Firvulag, who are far more numerous), they seek humans with strong mental abilities as mates to carry on their bloodlines and rule the Pliocene empire. As a result, humans with strong mental abilities, such as the madcap trickster Aiken Drum (who always keeps things interesting) or the totally boring but insanely powerful Elizabeth are highly sought after as Tanu mates.

So, basically the premise rocks. The author pulls it off with style and it’s a lot of fun.

What I Didn’t Like :

(1) My lack of connection with the characters was such that whenever they endured some terrible plot twist of fate, my reaction, instead of crying with the characters, was continually, “HAH! Clever twist, author, I gotta hand it to you.” It’s not that the characters were bad; not at all. In fact, for a plot- and milieu-driven book, they were quite good. But I really like to connect with my characters, and I had trouble with that in both books I & II. The main reason is, I think,

(2) that as with book I, I would have preferred fewer perspectives. I like reading from the perspective of a small cast anyway, but these books aren’t large enough to fully explore their 8+ character arcs.

(3) My third complaint is totally subjective and likely connected to my first complaint, above; but it bothers me that love is never a “great power,” in this series. Hatred, madness and power-lust drive the plot, but love (almost) never does. Pliocene lovers (who have no chemistry, btw) tend to find comfort in their love only until they go mad or die.

Love is almost never a powerful plot motivation. Mental powers are the main “force,” in this world.

Which brings me to (4) my fourth and final complaint: I don’t find the speculative element all that…magical. I know, I know, this is sci-fi, not fantasy; but I still like to find myself wishing I could have a go with the superpowers or whatever. I didn’t feel that way about the five great “mental guilds” or “metaphysic clans” that make up a large portion of the speculative element, in this series: Farsensors, Creators, Coercers, psychokinetics (PK), and Redactors.

The mindspeak is almost nauseating, at times. It sounds like baby talk:

Atleast they no make Aiken dance their tune viceversa if anything.
Not toy like Raimobooby.
Nor I Sukeylove if you help.”

I happen to enjoy whimsy more than MIND CRUSHING POWERS! But a different reader might really enjoy the complexity of the mental gymnastics involved.

Overall :

Julian May knows how to tell a good story. This review may have sounded negative, but I’m really just elucidating my own personal reasons for keeping this book at 3.5 stars, despite the incredible thought put into the premise and pageantry.

Recommended To :

Male readers of fantasy and sci-fi at my library seem to love this series. Any plot- or milieu-driven readers would eat this up. I recommend it to teen and adult readers of sci-fi. It will appeal to some fantasy readers, but more to sci-fi readers, I think.

Book III? :

I think I’ll give it a shot. The plot sounds interesting and I like the direction things are going with Aiken Drum…

3.5/5 STARS

Premise :

Ramagar, the self-styled Thief of Kalimar, and his partner Mariana, accompany a mysterious stranger on a quest to free the land of Speca from its dread conquerors.

About :

This is an older book, originally published in 1979; but Endeavor Press is republishing it, along with several other books by the author, Graham Diamond, whose book The Haven apparently has a cult following.

I confess to some confusion about why Endeavor republished this one. I think a lot of men must have read and enjoyed it as youngsters (which I gather by reading the Amazon reviews, not through Goodreads where the current overall rating is a rather low 3.22), so perhaps Endeavor expects these nostalgic readers to buy copies for old times’ sake. Fortunately or unfortunately, stories and storytelling have changed a lot since 1979, and this book had little staying power, at least to my tastes.

I enjoyed the first half of this book quite a bit more than the latter half, even though none of it is really “my style” (by which I mean, “has a fast-moving, but character-driven plot and atmospheric prose”). In the beginning, the middle-eastern feel attracted me, and I found myself subconsciously nabbing books about Sindbad and Aladdin from library shelves.

But when the story leaves Kalimar for the north, all the charm stays behind. Soon after that point (perhaps some 15% later), the cardboard characters and the predictable plot got the better of my patience and I gave up reading this one.

DNF at 61%. Why?

The Characters :

They have no personal ambitions; or, when they do have personal ambitions, the plot quickly overpowers them. They also have no consistent personalities—they all hang their heads, sneer coldly, nod gravely and purse their lips in grim smiles. Needless to say, I couldn’t, could not connect with them.

I’m also not sure why this book is titled “The Thief of Kalimar,” since it’s really more about “The Prince of Speca.” (Except, of course, because the former title sounds way more epic and eastern. But the plot revolves around the prince’s agenda, not the thief’s, so the title doesn’t makes sense to me.) Perhaps the final 39% would have enlightened me, but even that (not so) compelling question won’t convince me to finish this one.

The Plot :

It was fun, at first. The heroes mentally and physically overcome a few entertaining obstacles, such as swimming through waist-high sewage; they also outwit a few clever antagonists, such as a terrifying and warlike race of baboons and a bevy of soldiers who, thankfully, do not have the benefit of fingerprint criminal databases.

But after about 50%, I lost interest. The “planning” sessions always go like this: someone suggests a “crazy!” plan; everyone pelts him with baboon poop; the man with the plan points out x, y & z, which clearly make the plan necessary; everyone else grudgingly agrees. I mean, if it were a bit…cleverer…I might still enjoy these scenes. But it was too formulaic to keep me interested.

Other Complaints Because I Spent Hours Reading This Thing :

(1) The new cover does not fit at all. (2) I would have like a map. (Maybe the finished version has one?) (3) Feminists, you will hate this book. Don’t even try it. (4) “Over the low wall jumped Ramagar, thief of thieves.” This is an actual sentence from the book. And I respond, “At the book laughed Christy, reviewer of doom!”

Overall :

The first half has some nice moments and adventures, but everything goes downhill in the second. I can’t imagine that anyone who has read much fantasy would find this book very interesting. Although…it’s actually not at all inappropriate for children and teens. It might be a bit long for the MG crowd, but if those Amazon reviewers are any indication, boy readers might eat this book up.

Read at your own risk.

1.5/5 STARS

Bookshelf roundups” are just what they sound like: they “roundup” my latest reviews and upcoming reviews.

Recent Reviews

Yo readers! I’ve been reading a TON of YA, this month. Here’s the roundup, thus far:

First up was The Children of Icarus, a YA Fantasy by young author Caighlan Smith.

Children of Icarus

Kiersten White’s fabulous Alt Historical YA, And I Darken, was next:

My favorite of the bunch was a crossover fantasy from the 1980s: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.

The-Blue-Sword

I’m always looking for fantasies like this book, so I welcome your suggestions! This was a five-star, for me.

My latest review was of a new serial YA Dystopian called “ReMade,” put out by Serial Box Publishing.

Remade

Multiple authors, including the author And I Darken, Kiersten White, will contribute to this serial; episode one, authored by Matthew Cody, will be released on Sept 14th, 2016.

Upcoming Reviews

But in the next two weeks, I’ll be reviewing a couple of adult picks, in addition to an upcoming YA:

The Thief of Kalimar by Graham Diamond, a 1979 middle-eastern-flavored Fantasy that was recently republished as an ebook.

The Golden Torc by Julian May, book 2 of The Saga of the Pliocene Exile, an adult sci-fi published in the 1980s and republished by Tor in 2013.

Aaaaaand Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, a Latin-flavored YA Fantasy which will be published Sept 6th by Sourcebooks Fire. [Review now available!]

Labyrinth Lost.jpg

Isn’t that cover creepy!?

What have you been reading lately? What are you planning to read next? I do hope you’ll link your next “bookshelf roundup” to this post so I can see what you’re reading, too!

Remade

“The next time he opened his eyes there were monsters. They surrounded him, poked at him with spindly metallic arms. He saw himself reflected in their glassy eyes, multifaceted like prisms. A dozen Holdens all screamed at once, but someone had turned his voice off…

‘He’s awake,’ said a voice near his ear…’You shouldn’t do this to him while he’s awake. It hurts him.’”

“ReMade will premiere on September 14th, 2016. It will unfold across 15 episodes, be available in text and audio forms, and is presented by Serial Box Publishing.”

And I am so excited for more.

About :

ReMade is a serialized YA that took me completely by surprise. I originally discovered this publisher of serialized fiction because I had heard that Max Gladstone, author of the awesomely original Three Parts Dead, was writing an urban fantasy serial about magical librarians, or something. That particular serial is deep into season two.

But then I noticed that Kiersten White, author of And I Darken, a YA Historical which recently blew me away, was contributing to a brand new Dystopian/Adventure YA serial called “ReMade.” So, what the heck, I figured I’d give it a shot.

This first episode is written by author Matthew Cody.

The Opening :

It starts with this episode’s protagonist, Holden, living a relatively normal teenaged life. Or maybe not. He’s playing the only male fairy in the school play to impress a girl. Is that normal?

At any rate, I found him and his situation endearing. As he changes out of costume in his makeshift dressing room, a broom closet:

“Holden could just picture that door accidentally opening onto a crowded roomful of teenagers and their parents, and him standing there in his boxer briefs and eye shadow. It would be a Holden moment to remember.”

*snicker* I enjoyed the humor of the opening scenes.

And then things go crazy. The apocalypse. You know.

Here’s the publisher description:

“You live. You love. You die. Now RUN. ReMade.

Every minute, 108 people die.

On October 14th, 2016, from 9:31-9:32 p.m. EDT, 23 of those deaths will be teenagers.

Now they are humanity’s last hope for survival.

Awakened in a post-apocalyptic world and hunted by mechanical horrors, these teens search for answers amidst the ruins of civilization. Fate, love, and loyalty face off in this adrenaline -pumping YA adventure.”

Overall:

Standard YA Dystopian fare? Maybe, maybe not. It’s too early to tell, after reading this 45 minute episode, but there are some nice sci-fi touches that I don’t want to spoil for you. Episode one doesn’t reveal a lot of answers, but I’m hoping the next episode will. I really enjoyed Holden’s voice, and I know I will love Kiersten White’s writing, in her episodes.

That’s good enough for me to move on to episode two.

I can’t wait!

Recommended To :

Thus far, plot-driven dystopia addicts. Sci-fi lovers. Adults who YA.

Thanks to Matthew Cody, Serial Box Publishing and Netgalley for my review copy!

The-Blue-Sword

If I were marketing a new edition of this book (*hint hint, publishers*), I would only half-jokingly market it as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park meets Alanna The Lioness: The First Adventure.

Premise :

Harry Crewe, an orphan, lives on the charity of an upper-class Homelander family in the desert country of Damar. But when the king of a native, magical Hillfolk population senses with his “kelar” magic that Harry will be important to his people, he spirits her away to his desert tribe.

Harry soon exceeds the Hillfolk king’s expectations by developing a military skill that marks her a symbol of hope for the downtrodden Hillfolk. To them, she becomes known as “Harimad-sol,” a legend in the making, and among them she finds purpose she never found among the Homelanders. When the King declares her a king’s rider and gifts her with the legendary blue sword of Lady Aerin, Harry carries it to war for her adopted country.

High Fantasy, first published 1982, winner of Newbery Honor (1983), Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (1988) & Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (1984).

My library has copies of The Blue Sword in both the children’s section and the adult sf/f section; but if this book were published today, it would probably be marketed as YA, even though it doesn’t feel like modern YA (kind of like Sabriel by Garth Nix doesn’t feel quite like YA). It would also probably have more romance and less of a European feel.

As is, it appeals as much to adult-me as I think it would have to teenaged-me.

The Plot :

The first few chapters start slowly, but the writing is so lovely, I didn’t mind a bit. The plot fits nicely within the Hero’s Journey/Quest plot, except that it’s about a girl, instead of a guy. I love the “training” portions of the novel, since those often get skipped, in modern YA Fantasies.

The Worldbuilding :

The worldbuilding is a delightful mix of Victorian English, almost-American-western and middle eastern societies, as impossible as that sounds. The Homelanders have civil servants, rickety trains and fabulously fresh orange juice, and they spend their time hosting fancy dinners with the militia to find eligible mates for their daughters. Meanwhile the conquered Hillfolk, a clan-like desert people, live in the real world where wars and magic and concerns over a dwindling population take precedence.

It’s quite a fun world.

The subtle “kelar” magic reminds me of The Lord of the Rings. Nobody knows how the magic works, exactly; it just does. It appears to be more of an uncontrollable, fates-driven thing than an ability.

The Characters :

There’s so much to love about Harry Crewe. She’s my very favorite kind of protagonist—one who is complex and compelling, but also very good. She’s a heroine not just because she’s skilled, capable and loyal, but because she has a mind of her own and accepts responsibility for her own choices without complaint. She doesn’t expect the world to be fair; she just does her best to make it better.

She reminds me so, so much of Keladry in Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series.

Modern heroes and heroines are often flawed, but Harry proves that “good” doesn’t have to mean “simple,” “boring” or “formulaic,” just as “flawed” doesn’t always mean “complex.”

The Style :

The Blue Sword deemphasizes voice in favor of worldbuilding, a technique I love. McKinley’s unaffected, genteel and lightly humorous third person objective narration is, I think, more difficult than the more far more common and subjective “third person limited” and “first person” narratives that populate YA today. A lot of older Fantasies seem more adept at this technique; perhaps the style was more popular, then.

Recommendation :

The Blue Sword won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend this book for fans of Tamora Pierce, Rosemary Sutcliff and Cinda Williams Chima. (Also, possibly fans of Sherwood Smith. I haven’t tried her, yet, but she sounds promising.) Anyone who just wants a good story.

I’m already rereading it and enjoying the lush worldbuilding all over again. It’s no wonder Robin McKinley’s books have survived and thrived decades after they were written.

Do you know any great books like this one? If you have any recommendations for me, please tell me in the comments!